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Microsoft tests 'Work Assistant' app to help with Office tasks on phones

New application is designed to help users perform Office-related tasks on devices running Microsoft's OS for smartphones. Is this Bill Gates' "Personal Agent" project?

Work Assistant shows up in the Windows Phone app store, with the publisher listed as "Internal Beta Account." Screenshot by CNET

Microsoft is internally testing a new application called Work Assistant, which might be one of the projects with which company founder Bill Gates is involved closely.

WMPU was the first to cover the new Work Assistant app. (I saw the WMPU report via Softpedia.)

The Work Assistant app, marked as a private internal beta, is designed to help users perform various Office-related tasks on devices running the Windows Phone operating system for smartphones.

One of my contacts confirmed that the Work Assistant application is being developed by Microsoft's Digital Life + Work group, which is part of the Applications and Services Group (ASG) run by Qi Lu. Julie Larson-Green, chief experience officer of ASG, is believed to be spearheading the Work Assistant effort, and Gates has been involved, my source said.

Last week, during a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session, Gates said he was helping Microsoft work on a new Personal Agent project. While not offering many details, Gates said:

"One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent, which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to. The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model -- the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices."

The Work Assistant beta is 2MB in size, and was last updated December 2, 2014, according to the Windows Phone Store page about the app. It works on devices that run Windows Phone version 8.1 and requires information on users' appointments, contacts, Internet connection and microphone.

It's not clear what the Work Assistant's connection is to Microsoft's other "assistant": Cortana. During Microsoft's Windows 10 event in Redmond, Wash., in late January, officials showed off the ability for Cortana to do things such as fetch a PowerPoint deck from a user's own OneDrive storage system, simply by having a user ask (by voice) for slides for a particular meeting.

Cortana is integrated into Windows Phone 8.1 and will be integrated into Windows 10 and Windows 10 mobile for Windows phones and smaller tablets. Larson-Green also has said that Cortana will be coming to iOS and Android in some way, though she didn't provide a time frame.

Microsoft has said the name "Windows Phone" is going away with the launch of Windows 10.

This story originally posted as "Microsoft internally testing new 'Work Assistant' app" on ZDNet.